In the extensive fleet of preserved trams at the National Tramway Museum at Crich, Derbyshire, none is more precious than Southampton 45, a 1903 open-top double-decker which was designed specifically to fit the medieval Bargate in the centre of Southampton.
It survived thanks to members of the Light Railway Transport League (now the Light Rail Transit Association). The League had been founded in 1937 to campaign for the retention of light rail as urban and interurban transport, but witnessed the inexorable decline of street tramways in Britain before their eventual renaissance at the end of the century.
During a farewell tour of Southampton tramways in 1948, a group of League members took the opportunity to buy 45 for £10, despite the lack of anywhere to store, let alone display it.
Through the 1950s, Southampton 45 led a peripatetic existence, first stored in a tram depot in Blackpool and then displayed in the open air at the Montagu Motor Museum in Hampshire.
When the Crich site became available 45 at last had a permanent home, and now forms part of the running fleet of this splendid museum, the very first British tram to be preserved.
Subsequently, three more Southampton trams have been rescued. Two of them are being restored by the Southampton District Transport Heritage Trust.